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Butterflies of Thailand, Malaysia & Borneo
Common Tree Nymph
Idea stolli  MOORE, 1883
Family - NYMPHALIDAE
subfamily - DANAINAE
Tribe - DANAINI

Idea stolli, Singapore  Henry Koh
Introduction
The subfamily Danainae, which includes the Monarchs, Tigers, Crows and Tree Nymphs, comprises of about 190 species worldwide.
All Danaines are thought to be distasteful to birds. Their bodies contain toxins which are derived from the lactiferous larval foodplants, and are often supplemented by further toxins sequestered from adult food sources. The bright wing patterns "advertise" these unpalatable qualities, in much the same way that the bands of yellow and black of wasps advertise the fact that they can sting. Consequently any bird that suffers the highly unpleasant experience of tasting a Danaine is unlikely to attack other similarly coloured butterflies. Effectively, a few individuals are sacrificed for the good of the species as a whole.
There are 12 Idea species, of which 5 occur in West Malaysia i.e. hypermnestra, leuconoe, lynceus, iasonia and stolli. The other 7 species are found variously in India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, the Philippines, Sumatra, Borneo, Sulawesi, Irian and Papua New Guinea.
Tree Nymphs are very large butterflies, characterised by having translucent white wings patterned with black veins, and numerous oval black spots. They are noted for their slow and very graceful flight, which gives them the appearance of white handkerchiefs floating gently on the breeze.
Idea stolli occurs in West Malaysia, Singapore, Borneo, Sumatra and Java.
Habitats
This is a relatively common species occurring in primary and secondary rainforest and cloudforest at altitudes between sea level and about 1200m.
Lifecycle
The egg is melon-shaped and hexagonally pitted, with a flattened base. It is laid singly on leaves of Agonosma ( Apocynaceae ).
The caterpillar black, with a series of broad white transverse bands, and has bright pink lateral patches on the 2nd and 7th abdominal segments. It has a pair of long black filaments extending from each of the thoracic segments, and a shorter pair on the anal segment. These filaments probably disseminate pheromones that may function to ward off predators or parasitoids.
Adult behaviour

I have spent many happy hours watching this beautiful species at various sites in Sarawak and Sabah. The butterflies have a very slow and extraordinarily graceful flight. In the mornings they habitually ascend to the tree tops to feed at Syzygium or Eugenia flowers. In late afternoon they "parachute" very gently down in groups of up to half a dozen, weaving and circling until they settle, typically on a large leaf several metres above ground level.

The slow flight might be thought to make them easy prey for birds, but like all Danaines Idea are poisonous or highly unpalateable to birds and are not often attacked. The slow flight is their method of advertising the very distinctive pattern, which birds, through past experience, associate with a very unpleasant taste.

In sunny conditions males usually rest with the wings erect or partly open, ready to take flight to intercept potential mates. In cool or cloudy weather they are more relaxed and can sometimes be found feeding at flowers at the side of roads in hilly country. When feeding they tend to slowly flutter or fan their wings, but when settled on foliage they will bask with wings fully outspread.

 

 

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